Tuesday, December 1, 2015
deliver me from distraction
It’s that time of year again: Reverb time. Every December for the past several years, I have participated in a blog project in which writers reflect on the past year, and “manifest our dreams for the new one about to begin.” The project was started in 2009 and is currently managed by blogger Kat McNally, who sends a writing prompt, via email, each day.
In her seventh ever blog post, all the way back in March 2003, the inimitable Andrea Scher wrote: “Maybe lists are like prayers.”
What sorts of lists do you have on the go at the moment?
What do they suggest you are praying for?
When I opened my laptop and found this prompt, there was a list to my right, scribbled in pencil, in a sloppy shorthand no one but me could decode: Eye doc. Partyka. Lexi’s room.
This list is typical: a brief reminder of things I was supposed to have already done, scrawled at 11pm, when I remembered, once again, that I’d forgotten to do them. I was already in bed when I remembered. If I write them down now, I’d thought, reluctantly pushing off the bedcovers, I’ll remember to do them tomorrow. Call the eye doctor. Call the car dealership about that dull roar the car makes at high speeds. Clean out the dresser in Lexi’s room.
Next to my own dresser, in my bedroom, is a small meditation table. I like to spend a few minutes there at the end of the evening, giving thanks for the day, asking for guidance or peace for someone who needs it, and thinking about what I might do better tomorrow. Sometimes I need to put “meditate” on my to-do list, just to remind myself to pause.
And sometimes there’s a list on the table itself, or a slip of paper reminding me to keep a particular person in my thoughts. Last week, I hastily wrote this note during a “free-write” in the composition class I teach: “One word meditation. Focus.” I put that note in my pocket, and then, when I got home, I placed it on the meditation table so I wouldn’t forget. When I knelt down in my little breathing space later that night, I looked at the note and wondered what the hell it meant. The last word seemed like a sign. Focus. But it also baffled me: did it mean that “focus” should be my “one-word mediation?” Or that a “one-word meditation,” whatever that was, would help me focus?
Ah, yes, that last one. Keep the meditation simple. When I was a kid, I was a somewhat devout Catholic, and every night before I went to sleep I would say my prayers: The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, The Act of Contrition, The Apostle’s Creed, whatever other prayer I could think of. Then I would ask God to bless everyone I knew. The older I got, the longer the list went on. Instead of bringing peace, praying before bed was beginning to create anxiety. What if I left someone out? What if I forgot to pray? If I neglected to send prayers out to Aunt Sally, would she be struck with some ungodly disease? It was a lot of pressure.
Sometimes, a similar sense of anxiety plagues me when I come to the meditation space. So many folks needing peace and blessings: mass shooting victims (too many to count); the woman whose manuscript I’m editing who just lost her three-year old daughter to brain cancer; my mother, whose best friend is dying. What if I left someone out? And what if I neglected to be thankful for the many gifts the day had brought: a pink sunset at 4:00; a hug from one (or both) of my kids; health and warmth and food. So many things.
So, the note I had written to myself in composition class was a sort of revelation, or a reminder that a word—one word, as opposed to one hundred--can encompass a world of ideas, emotions, and even actions. And breathing one word, instead of uttering thirty seven scattered thoughts, might help me to truly embrace the task of meditation. Just saying the word "focus," for example, allows me to meditate on where I should direct that focus (parenting, friendships, civic duty, etc.).
This brings me back to my list. Or, to be more precise, my lists. They are on the fridge, in my email, on the calendar. All of these lists, with their reappearing items and reminders, seem to be a prayer for a virtue I have always struggled to attain: attentiveness. I have often (half) joked that I suffer from adult ADHD; if I’m going from the living room into the kitchen, two rooms away, to get a pair of scissors, I will get distracted by something else along the way, and forget about whatever it was I was planning to cut out--that is, until 11:00 that night, when I will add “cut out magazine article” to my list of things to do tomorrow.
Attentiveness. My list seems to be pleading for it:
Eye doc. Last Wednesday, I went to urgent care because my eye was swollen shut, and my eye doctor was off that day. The doctor who saw me prescribed antibiotic drops and told me to see my eye doctor ASAP for a follow-up visit. It’s almost a week later. I haven’t seen my eye doctor. But it’s been on my list every day.
Partyka. The Mazda dealership in Hamden. For over a month now, my car has been saying, “Hey, you, pay some attention to me.” This voice has been getting progressively louder.
Lexi’s room. Her drawers are overflowing with outgrown clothes and summer outfits. Clean clothes sit folded in a laundry basket, waiting for a home. Take us, the too-small sweatshirts plead, their limp arms draped over the sides of drawers that won’t close.
Attentiveness. When I sit at my meditation table now, I utter only one word each night, and reflect on its many possibilities, not only for myself but for my family, for people I know and for strangers in war-torn countries, for folks fighting less public but equally intense internal and external battles. Balance. Love. Awareness. Focus. Nurture.
Whether I’m able to apply this “focused simplicity” to all of my tasks remains to be seen, and if history is an indicator, it’s going to be a struggle. But hey, at least I’m aware. Or I'm reminding myself to be aware.